Magazine article Gramophone

'Variations': G Benjamin Meditation on Haydn's Name Berio Cinque Variazioni Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Magazine article Gramophone

'Variations': G Benjamin Meditation on Haydn's Name Berio Cinque Variazioni Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Article excerpt

'Variations' G Benjamin Meditation on Haydn's Name Berio Cinque Variazioni Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op 24 Knussen Variations, Op 24 Lieberson Piano Variations Benjamin Hochman pf Avie [F] AV2327 (59' * DDD)

As with his Avie solo debut disc (1/14), Benjamin Hochman's all-variations follow-up release juxtaposes old and new works. Or rather 'new-ish' works, since Peter Lieberson's 1996 Piano Variations is the most recent offering, albeit in its world premiere recording. The piano-writing alternates between thorny and transparent textures, packed with repeated notes and chords that often suggest harmonically upgraded Scriabin. Rapid tremolos and quicksilver high-register single-line melodies abound. The music shifts moods on a dime and demands supple, split-second technical flexibility, which Hochman provides in spades.

The pianist's confident and polished fingerwork makes a compelling case for Oliver Knussen's absorbing and carefully crafted Variations, although I prefer Peter Serkin's premiere recording (RCA) for its sharper accents, wider dynamic range and more characterful contrasts. Hochman's solid command of the virtuoso outbursts and hushed delicate passages in Berio's Variazoni splits the difference between Vanessa Wagner's broader, interpretation (Ambroisie) and the lighter, more airborne pianism that Andrea Lucchesini serves up on his recording (also on Avie). George Benjamin's 1982 Meditation on Haydn's Natne remains a miniature masterpiece of pinpoint timing and harmonic ingenuity. If Hochman doesn't quite match the whimsical touch distinguishing the composer/pianist's Nimbus recording, his sensitive and nuanced playing still satisfies. …

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